FanPost

Let the Games Begin... Defensive Line Battles Will Be Epic


Last offseason, a common refrain was that our defensive line depth was so good that we would have to cut talented players. I think this "problem" is even more pronounced this season. Let's go through the current roster and make some premature predictions.

Lock:

DE Nick Bosa

DT Arik Armstead

DT Javon Kinlaw

DE Drake Jackson

We don't need to write much about Bosa, who may be the best player on the team. Armstead benefitted last year from playing inside more and with this year's roster, that should continue. This is going to be a critical year for Kinlaw who has struggled with injury and, even when healthy, has not lived up to his draft position. He has shown flashes of strong run defense which will be important with the departure of DJ Jones. But he needs to show more in the pass rush department to earn a second contract. Jackson, our highest draft pick, is transitioning back again from OLB to DE and will likely be used as a situational pass rusher initially.

Strong Bubble

DE Samson Ebukam

DE Kemoko Turay

DE Kerry Hyder Jr.

DT Maurice Hurst

DT Hassan Ridgeway

Ebukam is a player that some have guessed we may cut or trade and save $6.7M in cap space this year. I think this is unlikely. He started slow last year, as is not surprising from someone coming from a different scheme where he played OLB. We played 20 total games last year, here are his numbers from the final 10: 28 tackles, 13 QB hit, 5.5 sacks, 5 TFL. Project that over 16 games, you get 45 tackles, 21 QB hits, 9 sacks, and 8 TFL. Would you pay $8M for that production? I would. Will he reach those numbers? Probably not, if only due to the competition for snaps. Best guess is he is a solid contributor this year and leaves in FA in 2023 assuming Jackson pans out. The reason I moved him from "lock" to here is that, in the event that Turay and Jackson look excellent, the team may decide the cap savings is worth it and looks for a trade.

Kemoko Turay was a sneaky great signing. Injuries plagued his 2019 and 2020 seasons but had career bests last year in 13 games where he posted 9 tackles, 8 QB hits, 5.5 sacks, and 5 TFL. If he remains healthy and looks poised to have a similar year, he moves up to lock status. Hyder underperformed last year but we all know what he can do on a Kocureck-coached line. He will have stiff competition for reps, however. Mo Hurst was an above average pass-rushing DT who seemed like a steal last year until his injury. Still only 26 years old, if he has recovered and stays healthy the vet is poised to be a subpackage contributor. Ridgeway seems like he should be a replacement for DJ Jones but he struggles against the run. (PFF had him as their 3rd worst run defender). Perhaps he should be on the weak bubble. Still, he is getting $1M guaranteed, which is more than Hyder. We should all hope Kinlaw balls out and makes him expendable.

Weak Bubble

DE Charles Omenihu

DE Jordan Willis

DT Kevin Givens

DT Kevin Atkins

Omenihu and Willis will be on NFL rosters this year, but unlikely both of them will be on the 49ers simply due to the competition. Omenihu has some inside/outside versatility and punished the Cowboys last year with 1.5 sacks and 6 QB pressures. Special teams play may come into play here and we will not soon forget Willis' playoff heroics. Givens is a guy who has stuck around for 3 years without particularly distinguishing himself. Oddly, some predictions have him as a strong bubble player but I cannot fathom why. That said, I can't say for sure that there is a definite drop off in talent between him and someone like Ridgeway. Atkins is an UDFA who has played all over the interior line and has extensive college ST experience.

Longshots

DT Chris Slayton

DE Alex Barrett

Slayton and Barrett were practice squad players which again like a likely home for them.

Others

DT Kalia Davis

DE Dee Ford

Davis is the closet thing we have to DJ Jones on the roster (and maybe next fullback!) but will start on PUP. It's unclear whether he sees playing time in 2022 or does a full redshirt. Ford will be released post June-1

"All too early" final roster prediction, barring injuries (starters i bold though we all know there will be heavy rotation):

DE Nick Bosa

DE Samson Ebukam

DE Drake Jackson

DE Kemoko Turay

DE Kerry Hyder Jr.

DT Arik Armstead

DT Javon Kinlaw

DT Maurice Hurst

DT Hassan Ridgeway

DT Kevin Atkins

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.